BFAR forms team to probe alleged cyanide use in Bajo de Masinloc

By Stephanie Sevillano and Wilnard Bacelonia

February 26, 2024, 7:44 pm Updated on February 26, 2024, 7:57 pm

MANILA – The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) on Monday said it designated a legal and technical team to probe the alleged cyanide fishing at Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough shoal.

"Ang inisyal nating ginagawa ay magkaroon ng pagkalap ng mga opisyal na pahayag doon sa mga mangingisda, mga sworn statement, para magamit natin basehan (What we are initially doing is to gather official statements from fishers, sworn statements that we can use as a basis)," BFAR spokesperson Nazario Briguera said at the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon briefing.

"Ngayon na-organisa natin, iyong team from our legal department. Iyong mga personnel namin bababa doon sa lugar kung saan nandoon iyong mga mangingisda (We organized our team from our legal department. Our personnel will go there to our fishers)," he added.

Fishers in the area earlier reported that foreign fisherfolk allegedly used cyanide fishing which heavily damaged the the lagoon.

Nazario said BFAR's technical experts shall conduct further assessment to identify the cause behind the alleged damaged fishing grounds.

“Hindi pa naman po talaga natin conclusive na sinasabi kaya nga po patuloy ang ginagawang imbestigasyon ng Bureau of Fisheries at Aquatic Resources (We are not saying conclusively [that it was caused by cyanide fishing], that's why BFAR's investigation is ongoing)," he added.

Nazario, meanwhile, welcomed other research organizations interested in verifying the alleged report.

"Bukas po kami sa pakikipagbalikatan sa iba pang ahensya ng pamahalaan, mga research institution para po talaga mapatunayan natin at magkaroon ng scientific basis itong sinasabi ng mga mangingisda (We are open to collaborate with other government agencies, research institutions so that we can verify it and have scientific basis for our fishers' claim),” he said.

These include experts from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute and the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute, among others.

Once the BFAR finds validity in the alleged cyanide fishing, it will submit its report to the Task Force West Philippine Sea.

Senator seeks probe

A senator, meanwhile, filed a resolution seeking to investigate the alleged cyanide fishing by foreign vessels in Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal.

Senator Francis Tolentino said he filed Senate Resolution 938 after the BFAR reported that their recent deployments at the Bajo de Masinloc found the lagoon heavily damaged, possibly due to cyanide fishing by Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen.

"Nakakaalarma na tong 21,000 acres of coral reefs na sinira pero itong use of cyanide eh mas mabigat po ito (The damage to 21,000 acres of coral reefs is alarming but the use of cyanide is worse). I now consider this as environmental terrorism," Tolentino said in a press briefing.

The senator, who currently chairs Special Committee on Maritime Zones, said there are several international agreements that were violated and can be used as basis to hold accountable for the damages.

Tolentino cited the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

"Yung mga nabanggit kong conventions kanina ay magagamit nating mag-file ng kaso. Kung meron tayong ebidensya ay pwedeng mag-award sa atin ng kaukulang damages [incurred] (The conventions that I have mentioned earlier can be utilized in filing cases. If we have enough evidences, they can award us the damages incurred)," he said.

The cases, Tolentino said, can be filed in the International Court of Justice.

According to BFAR, the Filipino fisherfolk informed them that China was deliberately harming the Bajo de Masinloc to prevent Philippine vessels from accessing the area.

However, the Chinese Embassy denied the accusations, citing it as "sheer fabrications." (PNA)